Unequal but essential: How subsistence consumer–entrepreneurs negotiate unprecedented shock with extraordinary resilience during COVID-19

Madhubalan Viswanathan, Hussein Faruque Aly, Ronald Duncan, Namrata Mandhan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We use qualitative interviews to study subsistence consumers confronting the global, pervasive and extended challenges of COVID-19, encompassing literally all realms of daily life. For subsistence consumers whose circumstances are filled with day-to-day uncertainty and a small margin of error to begin with, the pandemic has led to manifold uncertainties and a disappearing margin of error, with potentially lethal consequences. Their constraints to thinking and lack of self-confidence arising from both low income and low literacy are magnified in the face of the complex, invisible pandemic and the fear and panic it has caused. Characteristic relational strengths are weakened with social distancing and fear of infection. Yet, subsistence consumers display humanity in catastrophe, and confront the uncontrollable by reiterating a higher power. Consumption is reduced to the very bare essentials and income generation involves staying the course versus finding any viable alternative. We derive implications for consumer affairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-178
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Consumer Affairs
Volume55
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • poverty
  • subsistence marketplaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)

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